Friday, 16 January 2015

Councils leave taps dry in defiance of court order on water cuts

Pamela Shumba Senior Reporter
LOCAL authorities countrywide, including Bulawayo City Council, have started disconnecting water to defaulting rate payers, after the Harare City Council appealed against a High Court decision declaring the practice unconstitutional.

The order, which municipalities are disregarding pending a Supreme Court ruling, compelled all councils to seek court orders before cutting off supplies.

Bulawayo Mayor Councillor Martin Moyo, who is also the Urban Councils’ Association of Zimbabwe (UCAZ) president yesterday told Chronicle that council had intensified disconnections in a bid to recover more than $90 million that had accumulated in a space of one year, following the writing off of about $50 million that had accrued from 2009 to 2013.
Councils leave taps dry…Defy court order on water cuts
He said they were taking advantage of the Harare City Council appeal, which he said had automatically suspended the High Court order.

“The High Court order came about after a lawyer Farai Mushoriwa contested disconnection of water to his home. The Harare City Council has since appealed against the court’s decision and legally this automatically means that the order has been suspended,” said Clr Moyo.

“We have therefore taken advantage of this loophole to disconnect water as we try to recover more than $90 million owed by our residents. What is disheartening is that the $90 million started accumulating after we wrote off about $50 million in 2013, which had accrued in a space of four years. In about one year, the money owed shot up to $90 million.”

Clr Moyo said the High Court option to take legal action was cumbersome and expensive to municipalities as it involved legal charges, adding that disconnecting water was the only effective option for local authorities to encourage people to pay.

“The High Court option is expensive for the consumer and too cumbersome for local authorities because it’s a long process that usually takes months and it involves lawyers who will require payment,” he said.

“Since the consumers are already in default, the conclusion is that they would be saddled with a heavier bill including the original bill, legal fees and interests. I therefore think that it is better to deal with the issue between ourselves, which only costs $10 for reconnection.”

The chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Local Government Irene Zindi said the disconnection of water was a sign of arrogance on the part of local authorities.

“This is a matter that is already before the courts and local authorities should lead by example and abide by the law. Our people are in a Catch 22 situation because the economy is not performing well and most are being laid off from their work places,” said Zindi, who is also the Mutasa South National Assembly member.

“Any decision by the City Fathers should be in consideration that life has to go on despite the challenges faced by the people. We’re city dwellers and there’s nowhere else we can get water from, unlike those in the rural areas.”

Bulawayo Residents Association (Bura) chairperson Winos Dube said the city council should appreciate that the economic situation was making it difficult for most people to pay their bills.

He castigated councils for disconnecting water in January, saying it was one of the most difficult months for most residents.

“We’re not encouraging people not to pay their bills but if we look at the situation on the ground, it simply gives us reason why people are failing to pay their debts. Most people are not working and struggling even to feed their families,” said Dube.

“Instead of disconnecting water, council should engage residents’ associations to come up with ways to cultivate a culture of paying among residents. Residents need to be encouraged to pay whatever little amount they have.”

He appealed to the government to give utmost attention to the plight of the ordinary citizens by introducing subsidies that will make life easy for local authorities and rate payers.

The disconnection of water supplies by local authorities is a threat to people’s health as some residents have resorted to using contaminated water for domestic use. Chronicles

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